Monday 20 August 2018

De Bruyne steers the ship in another City cruise

Manchester City 7 Stoke City 2

Bernardo Silva salutes the crowd after the rout. Photo: Getty Images
Bernardo Silva salutes the crowd after the rout. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Wilson

Manchester City's third goal - in the 27th minute - in their latest goal-fest came after a slick first-time passing move. A bamboozled Stoke City defence was already wearily familiar with that routine. What made this goal stand out yesterday was that Kevin De Bruyne had no direct involvement in it.

The Belgian has been the inspiration behind much of what City have produced this season, yet here were his fellow forwards pinging the ball about with accuracy and imagination without him. Gabriel Jesus found Leroy Sane on the left, his firm cross was instinctively caught and turned back in a single touch by Raheem Sterling, which left David Silva the relatively simple task of arriving on the six-yard line to become the third scorer of the afternoon.

Stoke City's Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher reacts as Manchester City players celebrate their victory. Photo: Getty Images
Stoke City's Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher reacts as Manchester City players celebrate their victory. Photo: Getty Images

By that stage, supporters in the posh new Tunnel Club seats were beginning to turn their back on the action to take selfies. In fairness, in under half an hour they had already witnessed some of the best of the De Bruyne show. It was the former Chelsea player's cross that led to the home side first chance in the opening minutes, though after doing well to control the ball Sane managed to sky his shot with the goal at his mercy.

Stoke's reprieve was short-lived. The visitors were slow to react to the danger when De Bruyne went forward with the ball, biding his time until Kyle Walker came steaming up on what might have to be termed the underlap, getting ahead of De Bruyne by cutting inside Kevin Wimmer. Once De Bruyne knew he was ready, the weight on his pass was perfect, leaving Walker to cut the ball back from the goal line for Jesus to hook past Jack Butland.

Before the visitors had fully recovered their composure, City struck again with another quality passing move. This time a disguised reverse pass from De Bruyne set Sane free on the left, with Jesus and Sterling practically queuing up in front of goal for a tap-in. Sane's pass found the latter, and Sterling came up with a composed finish.

Remarkably, thanks to a determined run and shot from Mame Diouf and a neat return pass from Jesé, the half-time deficit was actually just two. Stoke had managed to score with their only real attack of the first half and their meagre 16 per cent of possession, but it came at exactly the right time to remind all present that this might not be the expected procession after all.

Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates. Photo: Getty Images
Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his team mates. Photo: Getty Images

That impression was only strengthened when Stoke opened the second half with another goal, Diouf reaching a Tom Edwards cross to score with the help of a significant deflection off Walker, though that was as good as the afternoon got for Mark Hughes and the 18-year-old he gave a debut to at right-back.

The home side once again took control with ridiculous ease thanks to another burst of three goals. De Bruyne had a hand in them all, and though Stoke only had themselves to blame for the defensive mix-up that led to the first, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the midfielder's searching ball into the area and even more to admire in a dazzling first-time finish from Jesus.

Fernandinho was next, taking a pass from Fabian Delph to hammer home a long shot, and though De Bruyne could not be said to have created the opportunity, it was his pass away from goal that found his two team-mates in space.

De Bruyne definitely created the sixth goal, with a delightful diagonal ball that left Sane an opportunity he could hardly miss, a fact not lost on a home crowd who celebrated by singing the Belgian's name rather than that of the goalscorer.

Stoke were as good as on the bus home by the time Sterling and Bernardo Silva combined for a seventh goal 10 minutes from time. Pep Guardiola had withdrawn De Bruyne for Ilkay Gundogan by that stage, but even with only 66 minutes on the pitch there was no question who was man of the match. The official announcement was just another invitation for the crowd to sing De Bruyne's name.

Observer

Sunday Indo Sport

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport